He led Alex Smith and Utah to a major bowl game and a perfect record. After leaving the Utes for a national powerhouse in the form of the Florida Gators, he made everyone in Gainesville forget about Steve Spurrier (no small feat). And now, after taking over a program that was on probation, Urban Meyer has led Ohio State to its first national championship since 2002.
Following Ohio State’s 42-20 dismantling of the Oregon Ducks in the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship game, we can say unequivocally that Meyer is among the best collegiate coaches in the modern history of the game.
What he did in not only rebuilding a fledgling program, but this season alone is absolutely amazing. Starting the season without the services of Heisman candidate Braxton Miller was a blow in and of itself. Then take into account the fact that Ohio State had to find a way to replace 2013 leading rusher Carlos Hyde, and everything seemed to be working against this program.
Then came J.T. Barrett, who found a way to look even more impressive than the injured starter he was replacing. In 11-plus games prior to injuring his ankle against Michigan back in late November, Barrett put up nearly 3,800 total yards with 45 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Most of this came after the red-shirt freshman completed just 9-of-29 passes with three interceptions in an early-season loss to a mediocre Virginia Tech team.
Instead of crumbling following that loss, Meyer’s Buckeyes united behind Barrett and showed everyone why it was a team. Once Barrett went down with a broken ankle in the team’s final regular season game, all hope of a national championship seemed to crash down with it. Entering the summer as Ohio State’s third-string signal caller, an unknown in the form of Cardale Jones stepped into a leadership role under center.
And what followed was nothing short of amazing. Heading into the Big 10 Championship game against Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin, few gave the Buckeyes much of a chance to win. More than that, things had to work in Ohio State’s favor in order to reach the first ever College Football Playoff.
Meyer’s squad responded with a historical beat-down of the Badgers by the score of 59-0. That game saw Jones break out big time to the tune of 257 passing yards and three touchdowns. Knowing he had to take on a larger role with the team’s two top quarterbacks out of action, running back Ezekiel Elliott put on a show. He recorded 220 rushing yards and two scores on 20 touches.
Suddenly, fans in Columbus had forgotten about the likes of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Instead, an entirely new backfield was about to lead this team into the playoff.
Continuing his ridiculous play, Elliott put up a 230-yard, two touchdown performance against a stout Alabama defense in the semifinal game. Meanwhile, making just his second career start, Jones showed everyone why the Buckeyes were in good hands. He tallied nearly 300 total yards and a score in the impressive 42-35 win over a favored Crimson Tide team.
Then came Monday night.
Ohio State knew it was going to be in for a battle against Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and company. Despite turning the ball over four times, the team’s perseverance was once again on full display. Elliott just continued his domination in the backfield, going for 246 yards and four touchdowns on a ridiculous 36 attempts. And while not performing at an incredibly high level, Jones did enough to lead Ohio State to the victory.
The ability of a team go overcome setback after setback throughout what was a grueling season just goes to show us how good of a coach Urban Meyer is. While we already knew he was among the best in the game heading into the season, he took his coaching to an entirely new level in winning his third National Championship as a head coach.
Instead of wallowing in its misery, Ohio State’s football team found new ways to win. It found other players to rally around. It took the entire concept of TEAM and redefined it.
And for that, Meyer should receive all the praise that could possibly be handed to a head coach in the college football world.
Photo: USA Today